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Classical Choices: Sabine Devieilhe, David de Winter & Quatuor Agate

Our latest pick of classical recordings, curated by Charlotte Gardner, includes new recordings of Mozart, Strauss, Heinrich Schűtz and Brahms

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 This month’s Classical Choices arrives just as the BBC Proms unveils its exciting-looking 2024 season. Events being honoured this year include the 150th birthdays of three contrasting composers: Gustav Holst, Arnold Schoenberg and Charles Ives. Performances that look set to pack a punch include Sir Antonio Pappano conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and Tiffin Boys’ Choir in Britten’s War Requiem, with soloists Natalya Romaniw, Allan Clayton and Will Liverman; two concerts under Sir Simon Rattle in his first season at the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, plus performances from the Berlin Philharmonic, Czech Philharmonic, West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris and Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra. 

There’s also a clutch of exciting-sounding premieres to look forward to, including a second BBC Proms commission from Anna Clyne, The Gorgeous Nothings, for the BBC Philharmonic. 

Clyne’s first BBC Proms commission, Masquerade – inspired by the London pleasure garden concerts that preceded the Proms – was magnificent, and it’s a recording of this (performed by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Marin Also) that opens this month’s playlist. 

In contrast to that high-impact orchestral fanfare, this month’s new releases all feature smaller-scale ensembles. First, a breathtakingly beautiful and intimate recital of Mozart and Strauss songs from soprano Sabine Devieilhe and pianist Mathieu Pordoy. Next, a Venetian-themed exploration of German composer Heinrich Schűtz from tenor David de Winter with The Brook Street Band, and to close, a show-stoppingly good Brahms string quartets cycle from Quatuor Agate…enjoy!

 Mozart & Strauss: Lieder

Sabine Devieilhe, Mathieu Pordoy


French soprano Sabine Devieilhe is not the first singer to have paired Mozart with Richard Strauss in the recording studio, however I can’t think of anyone else who has done so through the intimate lens of voice and piano, rather than employing a full orchestral arrangement. 

When Mozart’s contributions to the Lied genre are so often overlooked in favour of his operatic arias, it’s an absolute joy here to find miniature masterpieces such as ‘Abendempfindung’, ‘An Chloe’ and ‘Das Veilchen’ given the highest-class championing they merit. 

It’s wonderful stuff from beginning to end and so, so intimate. The communion between Devieihle and pianist Mathieu Pordoy is one of utter closeness. The recording places listeners just the right distance away from them, in the Opéra de Paris’s Salle Liebermann, in turn creating a close communion between them and ourselves. There’s also a communion between Mozart and Strauss, as the programme proceeds to alternate from one to the other. Strip away Strauss’s lush orchestral textures, and the two composers’ respective lyricism, delicately detailed scoring and colourful word painting cause their lines of separation to blur. This effect is furthered by the similarities between the subject matter in the respective song choices. On top of all this is the limpid purity and soft chime of Devieihle’s soprano, every word articulated with crystal clarity, and her and Pordoy’s combined crafting of each song’s narrative arc. Strauss’s ‘Morgen!’ has a rare transcendental stillness in their hands, with a beautiful guest cameo from violinist Vilde Frang, who appears on exactly the same emotional and stylistic page.

I’ve given you Strauss’s ‘Morgen!’, ‘Schlangende Herzen’ and ‘Wasserrose’, and the three aforementioned Mozart songs for our playlist. 

Schűtz: A German in Venice

Brook Street Band


Heinrich Schűtz’s music represents a fascinating melding of different musical periods and geographic climates. He was born in 1585, the year Thomas Tallis died, and died in 1672 at the start of the high Baroque, just 13 years before the birth of Bach. His music combines all those influences, containing aspects of Renaissance music – modal harmonic language, for instance – and early Baroque compositional technique. Whilst he was German and lived most of his life in Germany, he made two visits to Venice during his 20s – the first between 1609 and 1613, when he was taught by Giovanni Gabrieli, and the second in the 1620s. His music represents a fascinating and entirely individual blend of the ornate, theatrical style of his Venetian contemporaries such as Monteverdi and Cavalli, and his own more understated Lutheran tradition. 

The other notable thing about Schűtz is that his sparkling music arguably doesn’t get nearly as much airtime as it deserves, despite there being over 500 surviving works to choose from (much of it church music). 

A new collaboration from David de Winter and period ensemble The Brook Street Band explores a selection of Schűtz’s solo cantatas alongside examples of virtuosic Venetian music by Monteverdi, Rossi, Grandi and Cavalli - some of it vocal, some instrumental. 

It’s a programme that puts its artists through their multi-faceted paces, and it’s beautifully done, from the Germanic-end, pared-down textures and quietly radiant reverence of Schűtz’s O süsser, O freundlicher – whose highlights include de Winter’s crisply rendered vocal embellishments and the closely attentive continuo support – to the more floridly-supported lilt of Schűtz’s Symphoniae Sacrae I, (which was published in Venice in 1629). Here, Rachel Harris’ and Kathryn Parry’s violins dance gorgeously in and out of each other, underpinned with neat spring by cellist Tatty Theo. Another pleasure is Monteverdi’s Confitebor tibi Domine, with its shifting colours and the vocal line’s almost operatic feel. 

On the instrumental front, there’s a pair of trio sonatas by Rossi, a Jewish composer employed by the court at Mantua, offering stylistic contrast with their Northern Italian imitation. One further pleasure, which can be felt throughout, is the underlying sense of joy. This may be sacred music, but there’s a thoroughly non-sober, life-affirming conviviality between these players at every turn.

I’ve given you the curtain-raiser, Schűtz’s luxuriously scored Lobet den Herrn from Symphoniae sacrae II, followed by Monteverdi’s aforementioned Confitebor tibi Domine; Schűtz’s O süsser, O freundlicher and the first of the Rossi trio sonatas for the playlist. 

Brahms String Quartets

Quatuor Agate

Vivre en Musiques

If you haven’t yet heard of young French ensemble Quatuor Agate, then take note. Formed in 2016, it’s comprised of violinists Adrien Jurkovic and Thomas Descamps, violist Raphaël Pagnon and cellist Simon Iachamet. The group’s success to date includes prizes from international competitions and festivals such as the Verbier Festival and BANFF International String Quartet Competition, plus being named YCAT artists and 2024/25 ECHO Rising Stars. 

The group’s decision to record Brahms for their debut is a resonant one. They named themselves after Agathe von Siebold, to whom Brahms dedicated his Second Sextet – a piece they consider to be one of the most beautiful pieces of chamber music ever written. As a postscript, they’ve added Jurkovic’s own quartet arrangement of Brahms’s piano Romanze Op.118 No 5, one of their favourite concert pieces; and in an especially nice touch, those who purchase the CD will be able to download its sheet music. 

Sound-wise, they have achieved the stylistic holy grail of finding a Brahmsian sound world while simultaneously sounding like no other quartet. There’s a fabulous, semi-freewheeling lyrical freedom to their melodic lines, plus an all-round sense of flying fluidity and organicism to their in-movement shaping and structuring. Their strong overall architecture has the faintest, deliciously French whisper about it, and incredibly taut drama (their handling of No 1 in C minor’s very opening crescendo-ing phrase, for example, is edge-of-the-seat stuff). It’s worth pausing at 4’46” of that movement to admire Jurkovic’s exuberantly ardent, lighter-than-air upwards portamento sweep; then at movement’s close, the earthily luminous chime of their final chord. 

The slow movements are notably lovely throughout – clean-lined, noble and tender, without ladling the romance on too thick. The Romanze itself is exquisite, opening in chorale-like profundity, with its players acutely aware of how to draw the music soul’s from its harmonic construction and provide striking shifts of colour, emotion and style as it proceeds. 

For the playlist I’ve given you the First Quartet and the Romanze.

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